It was the month of June 1999, when I first met Vijayan. I was interviewing him for a position of project lead in my company. Vijayan had all those qualities required for being considered for this position. A graduate degree in electronics and communication engineering from one of the premier engineering colleges in the country, followed by a masters from one of the sought after US universities and then about five years of relevant working experience in Silicon Valley with well known semiconductor companies. The technical interview panel already recommended his selection indicating his having very high degree of competence required for the job. In the HR round, I was very impressed with his clarity of thought, when he answered my questions, especially those related to his career. Then he made an unusual request. He wanted to be employed part time. I was not prepared for this because I always thought a project leader’s job in an IT company has to be full time. But he was very firm in his decision. He said half the day he would like to work for an NGO committed to uplift the life-standards of village artisans. Initially I did not agree but later on after talking to my other colleagues I reluctantly agreed to give a try. Vijayan joined us and over a period of time, he emerged as one of the most successful project leads in the company. However, he continued to work for half the day. In due course, I gradually became aware about him as a person, his views about many things in life and what he wants to achieve in his career. I realised that the primary objective in his career was not to become a successful IT manager, but to help others for a cause and make the world a better place to live.
It’s a mere coincidence that I met Sarita1 during the same time. She had a MBA in HR from one of the premier institutes of the country. She was then looking for an organisation which could give her opportunity to work for part - time in the HR team. I interviewed her and found her very competent in her area of expertise. I offered her a part time job as a consultant in the HR team. She did her job very well and then I offered her to be a permanent member of the team with regular managerial responsibilities. She was very clear in her approach, she said she would accept the manger’s role but still would like to continue part time. I realised that she valued her family and personal life equally to that of her organisational career and professional achievements and was not ready to give up one at the cost of the others. I was much wiser by then and I offered her a part time managerial job for a team of full time HR professionals. She not only excelled in her job but also was well accepted by her team members.
During the same time only I met Raviram1 in one of the conferences where both of us were co-speakers. We became good friends over a period of time and started meeting each other regularly to exchange our thoughts on subjects of mutual interests over weekends. Raviram was working for a multinational IT company as the software engineering head and was doing exceedingly well. He was being considered for heading the company for a major product initiative in the South East Asia region. Suddenly, in one of these meetings, he confessed about his intention of leaving his job. He sought my advice. However, the passionate way he explained his future plans to start his new organisation, I somehow knew he had already made up his mind. As predicted, going against advices from almost all his close friends and relatives he decided to quit and started his own company.
These three real life incidents convinced me that many of the traditional theoretical concepts for explaining career phenomena seem less valid today in India than they did earlier. There were three significant changes that I was witnessing through these experiences. The first was the de-coupling of the concept of career to any one organisation (so entrenched in my mind set) and even from its exclusive association with paid employment. Second the departure from the usually accepted notion of career as regular progressions through ladder like job sequences. Third was the newer meaning of career that went beyond organisations and encompassed family, life-interests and personal accomplishment.
Interestingly enough, in all the three real - life examples that I narrated above provided me an interesting insight about the career and career success in today’s world. Whereas in earlier days in India, professionals were contended with the organisational view of career and the career success today’s professionals were looking for self-defined view of career and the career success. Therefore, I felt it was important for me to understand the crucial building blocks that defined career and career success for these professionals. Reflecting on these experiences, I realised that if we, the HR professionals continue to take a purely transactional view of individual-organisational relationship, see as any individual as largely replaceable in terms of skill set, and view all non-work interest as strictly the individual’s business unless they infringe on his/her daily work schedule, we will be focusing as usual with the organisation - driven objective and external perspective of career and ignoring the individual - driven, subjective and internal perspective of career. Instead I thought could we address internal career needs of these professionals in organisational context.
In the backdrop of such realities, it calls for re- examining the changing meaning of career itself; the silent evolution that had already taken place in west and has already began in India, especially among the new generation whom I refer as “New Careerists”.
Career researcher Shepherd described this as a new career contact, which is not a pact with the organisation but more of an agreement with one’s self and one’s work. According to him, “these are the things that you can now or potentially could do with excellence, which are fulfilling in the doing of them, so fulfilling that if you also get paid to do them, it feels not like compensation, but like a gift”.
In this changing scenario, organisations in India need to realise that the time has come here too, where the work force are turning themselves into more pluralistic, where individual need fulfillment is as important as the external ones imposed by demands, possibilities, and limitations of the organisations. Success for these “New Careerists” will therefore depend to what extent organisations adopt creative and unorthodox HR practices that can effectively address internal career needs of these young and mobile professionals and create an emotional bonding between individuals and the organisation. This pluralistic framework of career recognises that there are markedly different ways of defining career success for an individual in the context of organisation, consequently markedly different approaches to career management to manage these “New Careerists”.
Are we ready to experiment?
 Real names have not been used to keep the anonymity